The Mysterious Death of Austin Squatty

The Mysterious Death of Austin Squatty

Monday, 10 May 2010

By Johnny Hughes

"Jenkins was a high-stakes gambler at poker and golf. After his death, there were rumours of large gambling losses and debts. The hand J-7 is named for him." 

John Jenkins (1949-1989), aka Austin Squatty, was a flashy and well-known poker player around the cash games and tournaments of the World Series of Poker in the 1980s. I played with him in the cash games – he wore a Binion's World Series hat and coat and introduced himself to everyone at the table by his road name. He was very talkative and charming.

Squatty had three cashes in the World Series. In 1983, he made the final table and place seventh when Tom McEvoy knocked him out on his way to a bracelet. A seventh place finish then only paid $21,600, a little over double the $10,000 entry fee.

Jenkins was a high-stakes gambler at poker and golf. After his death, there were rumours of large gambling losses and debts. The hand J-7 is named for him.

In real life, John Jenkins was an author, publisher, coin dealer, and one of America's best known rare book and document dealers.  He made millions, much of it on rare Texas books and documents. The 1970s and 1980s were perfect for Jenkins – a huge interest grew in all documents from the Texas Revolution from Mexico, circa 1836.

Jenkins procured many of his books and documents from Dorman David of Houston. Before Jenkins and David teamed up, there were five known copies of the Texas Declaration of Independence; a few years later, there were 20, in museums, libraries, and held by private collectors all over Texas.
There was also a brisk trade in letters written by the noble Alamo defenders while under siege and facing death from overwhelming Mexican forces. Davy Crockett wrote a few valuable letters. However, a rather suspicious number of those letters also began to surface on the market. Meanwhile, during this renewed interest in rare books and documents, a team of sophisticated thieves were raiding archives, county courthouses, and libraries all over Texas and down into Mexico. They knew what they were looking for.

Dorman David and John Jenkins were on the top of the world. Jenkins’ name and reputation were enough to provide provenance for old documents and books. Then it began to fall apart. A team of experts discovered many forged documents. A thief was caught leaving a library with a list of what to steal. He fingered Dorman David as the leader of the ring of thieves. Dorman also turned out to be a master forger on paper he baked in the oven. But did Austin Squatty know? He said until his death that David's skillfully forged documents fooled him, just like they fooled experts, museums, historical libraries, and collectors. Nobody could forge a document better than Dorman David and nobody could talk smoother than Austin Squatty. They even sold a forged Texas Declaration of Independence to the Governor.

Larry McMurtry, arguably America's best novelist, is also a large-scale rare book dealer. He says that Jenkins and David knew exactly what they were doing and enjoyed the con and fooling the whole rare book and document world. McMurtry thinks the whole idea that Jenkins could be innocent is absurd.

A bitter Dorman David has said Jenkins was an informer who made a deal.  Jenkins had debts, lawsuits, and was facing a possible indictment. There were three mysterious fires at Jenkins' well-insured warehouse, the last of which, on Christmas Eve of 1985, destroyed 500,000 rare books and documents. The District Attorney has said it was arson, although it’s difficult for me to believe Jenkins torched his own collection.

On April 16, 1989, John Jenkins was found floating in a shallow part of the river near Bastrop, Texas, with a gunshot wound to the back of his head.  His wallet was on the ground with credit cards and $500 missing. His Mercedes was parked a few feet away with the door open. No gun was found.

Originally, the coroner ruled it a homicide. The sheriff, all powerful in Texas, ruled it a suicide. He thought the conman Austin Squatty painted this last scene to get insurance money for his family. The sheriff thought Squatty had some flotation device that would float the gun on down the river. We will never know for sure.

See an excerpt and reviews of Texas Poker Wisdom at

Tags: johnny hughes, columnist